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Immigration equation

Immigration | Some say Arizona's immigration law is unfair; others say it's unfair to allow illegal immigrants to bypass the arduous legal process of becoming an American

Issue: "Warrior class," Aug. 28, 2010

Despite federal judge Susan Bolton's July 29 decision to block temporarily major portions of Arizona's new immigration law, SB1070 is continuing to have rippling political effects this election season. Polls show that the majority of Americans support it, and politicians are quickly reacting. Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah, for example, are among the states where legislators have introduced similar bills.

The issue has rocketed Arizona's interim governor Jan Brewer to national icon status and breathed new life into her previously stalled gubernatorial reelection campaign. Democratic advisors claim that the Obama administration has plenty of benefit to reap from the Justice Department's lawsuit against Arizona as well. They cite the likelihood that it will increase the president's standing among Hispanics, a demographic with whom his poll numbers have been faltering.

Given how much both sides have invested in this fight, it's little surprise that each is promising that it is far from over and that they will take it to the Supreme Court if necessary, all but guaranteeing that immigration will be a major national issue in the months leading up to November.

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But what of those most affected by SB1070 and the debate surrounding it-those living and trying to go about their business in the Grand Canyon State? Many-both supporters and opponents of the law-say the problem is being distorted to serve one political agenda or another and that the reality of illegal immigration is nowhere near as simple as it looks.

There are an estimated 500,000 illegal aliens residing in Arizona, and Holly Paulsen, a second-grade English teacher in a Phoenix school that serves disadvantaged students, says the images of drug smugglers and gangs hyped by politicians don't always paint an accurate picture of them. She has no idea how many of her students, who were placed in her class because of deficient English skills, are the children of illegal immigrants: "It could be 25 percent; it could be half; it could be the whole class. Unless they tell you specifically you don't know." But what she does know is the immediate impact the law's passage in April had in her school.

"Two hundred and fifty children in grades K-8 didn't come to class the day that Governor Brewer signed [SB1070]. I had 10 second-graders gone myself." For the rest of that academic year, she says the atmosphere on her campus changed, and much more time was devoted to weathering the immigration storm while much less time was spent learning.

"We had to counsel a lot of the kids because they were falling apart. They were scared for their parents and other relatives; they were scared they would have to move back to Mexico and not have a place to live. They were scared their parents would be arrested and deported and would have to leave them behind. These children already have a lot on their plates and then we throw this at them. It was tragic to see how distraught they were."

And it wasn't just the kids. Paulsen says she also noticed a dramatic change in the parents, who went from coming to her with concerns about their children's homework and test scores to coming to her with concerns they would have to pull their kids out of school and flee the state. She describes it as a difficult end to a difficult year that left many of the teachers in her school in tears, fearful for their students' futures. "You don't know if you're ever going to see or hear from some of the families again, you don't know if they're going to be safe, and you don't know if you're going to have a job next year-it was nerve-wracking."

Paulsen says she understands arguments about needing to secure the border and curb immigration-related crime, but she feels some middle way should be worked out that takes into consideration people who came to the United States for the right reasons even if it was in the wrong way. "The parents I meet, they are so passionate about their kids-they want them to learn, they want them to succeed. . . . I don't think anyone after getting to know these families would say, 'Nope, send them back home; kick them out.' I pray about it and I pray for the families and I hope that they're able to stay."

On the flip side of the issue is naturalized citizen Lisa Hope of Tucson. Born in Germany, Hope married an American serviceman who was stationed in Munich. She immigrated to the states during a long and arduous, but legal, process.

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